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Sunday, January 14, 2007

Chiang Mai: Traffic

Chiang Mai is a hard place to get around on the weekends. The walking streets are blocked off, requiring long detours and creating massive traffic jams. One weekend a member of the royal family was here, so even more streets were closed. Cars are pretty much immobilized in the evenings. Motorbikes and scooters weave through the traffic.

If you are a stranger, there are other problems. One-way streets don't have signs. During Bike Week I waved a Thai biker away from the left turn he was waiting to make. He looked surprised, until a car came out of the street right at him. That was the only way he could tell that he was entering a one-way street the wrong way.

Then there are the peculiar red light rules, which didn't apply up in Chiang Mai. Motorcycles don't stop for pedestrian-only lights, and cars don't stop for them unless they see that someone is about to cross. The lights at intersections are treated as optional, or at best like stop signs. Many intersections have no traffic control signs at all, no stop signs, no yield signs, no one-way signs, no street signs. Yet there are some where everybody stops anyway. I think a notorious accident must have occurred there, and the drivers are spooked.

The other day, I swear a car accelerated as I was crossing at a light, trying to run me down, it seemed. It was a big car, with dark-tinted windows. Money. So why should the driver care. Bribery will take care of any problems that might occur.

On holiday weekends and during special events the traffic is worse, but the drivers seem more cautious. Maybe it's because the traffic police are very much in evidence. Or maybe it's because they can't move anyway. Anyway, I'm happy to be on foot. I just don't cross any busy streets.

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